Last September, the Brazilian government released a study, Vozes da Classe Média (Voices of the Middle Class), noting that 53 percent of Brazilians are currently in the middle class. Of these, 80 percent are Afro-Brazilian. The data was covered extensively in the Brazilian press and sparked a debate about the extent to which Brazil’s recent economic growth has generated an improved standard of living for its overall population.
On one side, optimists celebrated the data, which showed improved social mobility for about 30 million people.
The Brazilian middle class is the third fastest growing in the world, trailing only India and China. Brazil’s middle class is urban, concentrated in the southeast (45 percent) and fascinated with technology. According to the Voices of Brazil study, if this social class were a country, it would be the twelfth most populous country in the world with 104 million people, just below Mexico.
On the other hand, skeptics said that Brazil’s middle class was different from the middle class in countries like the United States, where the middle class not only consumes goods and services but is also educated and enjoys an overall strong quality of life. Brazil’s historical lack of investment in education, its violence and its high levels of corruption have been barriers to complete social growth.
Last month, leaders of Brazil’s rural women’s movement met with their country’s first female president, Dilma Rousseff, in Brasilia to press for new national policies addressing domestic violence in Brazil. The Primeiro Encontro Nacional do Movimento de Mulheres Camponesas (First National Encounter of the Rural Women’s Movement) brought together approximately 3,000 activists from 22 Brazilian states. “Honoring the women of my country is my way of expressing what I owe to rural women, women workers, and what I owe to all of Brazil’s women,” Rousseff told the audience.
As Brazilian activists mobilize for International Women’s Day today, they know that this moment has been long in coming. In the 1980s, while women including Rousseff worked to overthrow a military dictatorship and lay the foundation for enduring democracy, young women in southern Brazil founded the Movimento de Mulheres Trabalhadoras Rurais (Movement of Rural Women Workers—MMTR) while still in their teens. Many of them had been forced to quit school after fifth grade to help with the housework, and they refused to accept lives in which women didn’t have the same legal rights as men.
The MMTR activists convinced their mothers, who were accustomed to isolation and submission, to join them on the streets to fight for women’s rights. Together, they also took on the place most resistant to change—their own homes—by fighting for an equal voice and trying to persuade their husbands and sons to help with the housework.
Twenty-five years into this expanding struggle for women’s rights, laws promoting women’s equality are part of Brazil’s constitution and the federal government pays social security to rural women. The women responsible for these changes could have moved away to larger cities, in search of a different reality. Instead, they took on the hard work of changing their own communities and transforming Brazil’s rural towns into places where women can enjoy economic rights and have their voices heard.
The struggles these women began years ago are far from over. Their stories show the mixture of pain and tenacity that propels activism forward:
Gessi Bonês went from leading the women’s movement to running the local health department: from taking over government buildings to working inside one. Gessi’s health department colleagues asked what someone who spent her life mobilizing outside official buildings was doing inside one. “You have no education,” they told her. “You only know how to protest and make trouble, so what are you doing here?” Meanwhile, other leaders of the women’s movement told her, “If you work in the institutions, you’re not part of the movement.”
Even after she had transformed the health department, Gessi continued to wonder how she could most effectively make change, by caring for individual families or pressing for bolder goals through mass protest, and why no one around her seemed willing to let her do both. “I have two hearts,” she said.
Mônica Marchesini also struggles to balance two realities, going to women’s movement meetings even as she works from dawn until after midnight doing farm work and caring for her family. Though she believes that boys should help around the house, she also says she can’t wait until her daughter, her youngest child, grows up, so she’ll be able to help with the housework. Mônica says that she works late into the night, but that her husband needs to rest on the couch and watch TV when he gets home from work in the fields.
Monica manages to hold onto an image of the way she wants the world to be while facing daily the realities of her life as it is now.
Ivone Bonês and Vania Zamboni, a lesbian couple, say that joining the women’s movement gave them the courage to change their own lives, creating a new way of living for themselves. The two women live together in a red and white house in their small Catholic town. But even at their women’s movement meetings, Ivone and Vania say they cannot speak openly about being lesbians, though everyone knows about it. When they have suggested addressing the topic in the group newsletter or at meetings, the other leaders have been unresponsive and the conversation has ended.
Like many women’s activists, Ivone and Vania face the paradox of silence amidst speech. They have learned that speaking out is not enough to change reality—the speaker bears a responsibility to carry the speech forward.
In Brazil as in the rest of the world, reforming gender roles remains as difficult as ever, even after years of struggle. Though the women’s movement in Brazil has achieved important inroads in the fight for greater equality, it continues to struggle with paradoxes and inconsistencies even from within. Fortunately, women like Gessi, Mônica, Ivone, and Vania are learning to face these paradoxes and fight their way through them—the only way political change and equal rights for women can become a reality.
A new Brazilian law that aims to curb cyber crime will go into effect in April, as announced on Tuesday. The law, passed last year, will make cyber crimes a criminal offense with jail sentences ranging from three months to two years.
Brazil is the world’s fourth largest source of phishing, which cost local banks $700 million in 2012. Given the growth of cyber crime, there is concern that the jail sentences will not be severe enough to deter criminals who openly trade stolen information online. Limor Kessem, an expert at the leading international security firm RSA, predicts that the law will not have an effect on the level of crime until criminals start seeing their counterparts arrested and imprisoned.
Although Brazil is still considered an emerging market, 48 percent of Brazilians connect to the Internet and use online banking at a comparable rate to more developed nations. The seventh-largest economy in the world has a growing middle class—53 percent of the total population—that has propelled online banking and commerce into the mainstream. But the growth of the middle class and the resulting spike in Internet connectivity have made the country an attractive target for phishing and malware.
As Brazilian banks and businesses strengthen security measures and the government targets the hackers behind these schemes, experts fear that offenders will simply change their focus to other countries. The lack of a regional authority will make it easier to target other emerging Latin American markets as their banks and commerce become increasingly digitized. According to a recent report by the São Paulo based security company Kaspersky Lab, the lack of intraregional cooperation and legal obstacles “means that unfortunately, cyber criminals will enjoy easy money and impunity for some time."
Raúl Castro’s government faces a number of critical issues, including the deteriorating health of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, the potential loss of his oil and Cubans' impatience with the government’s timid economic reforms. Who would have thought that a slight, humble woman of 37 years figured among them?
Yet the actions of the Cuban government and their sympathizers in Brazil have proved that despite looming economic and political problems, they clearly consider Yoani Sánchez one of their biggest challenges. The question is, why?
Despite the fact that Cuba has one of the lowest rates of access to the Internet in the world, Sánchez has a following of more than half a million outside Cuba. She is emblematic of a generation disaffected with the revolution and its legacy. She is not the only one. She is one of a whole group of bloggers, many of them women, who have taken to the Internet to complain about the daily indignities of living in Cuba today.
In spite of receiving awards for her journalism from Europe and the United States, the Cuban regime had consistently denied Sánchez the right to leave the island. But then this year, the Castro government instituted a new travel policy that grants to Cubans—with some exceptions—the right to travel out of the country (a right enjoyed by people in most countries). So far so good, right?
A few days ago, Yoani Sánchez arrived at her stop, Brazil. There her greeting party consisted of Cuban government-organized demonstrators that have—at almost every appearance—threatened her and tried to prevent her from speaking. It must have felt like home, since the use of government thugs to intimidate and physically threaten dissidents is a common occurrence in Cuba.
Earlier this week in Brazil, the price of ethanol rose above the price of sugar for the first time in nearly two years. What does this mean? Sugar mills, which dot Brazil’s landscape, will now opt to produce ethanol rather than sugar. This is a key development in a country that has been a leader in sugarcane ethanol for the past 40 years.
Since the 1970s, Brazil has led the way in producing alternative liquids as a part of the country’s energy matrix. Indeed, in 1975, Brazil initiated a gasoline substitution program called Pró-Álcool (The National Alcohol Program), which was developed in response to the world oil crisis at the time. Brazil could pivot its extensive sugar supply to produce ethanol, which could be used as an automotive fuel instead of relying on fossil fuels—which fluctuated in price—in large part due to the vagaries of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
This approach resulted in a win-win: Brazil became the world’s second-largest producer of ethanol fuel and, until 2010, was the world’s largest exporter. The Brazilian government subsidized production of ethanol, mandated that fueling stations offer ethanol in addition to gasoline, and provided incentives to build cars that ran on ethanol alone. Later, Brazilian automakers began producing “flex-fuel” automobiles that gave drivers the option to fill up their tank with either pure ethanol, or an ethanol/gasoline blend, depending on what was cheaper on that particular day.
Brazilian authorities inspected and closed doors on nightclubs throughout the country yesterday as part of an agreement between São Paulo’s governor, Geraldo Alckmin, and Mayor Fernando Haddad in response to Sunday’s deadly nightclub fire that claimed 235 lives and injured 143 in the southern city of Santa Maria. Alckmin stated that the joint response from the government, firefighters and inspectors is an effective method for ensuring nightclubs are complying with regulations. According to Erick Hoelz Colla, the acting commander of the Fire Department, the joint action will affect 230 businesses in the city. This initiative comes a week before Brazil’s annual Carnaval celebrations welcome thousands more nightclub goers and tourists to the city.
Leading police investigators have identified a series of potential code violations that seem to have exacerbated the impact of the fire. Investigators said that the band, Gurizada Fandangueira, used pyrotechnics meant for outdoor use only, that permits had expired, and the club only had one exit and no sprinkler system. Band members claim that pyrotechnics didn't cause the fire, but rather the club's faulty wiring was the catalyst. Mayor of Santa Maria Cezar Schirmer—who has been under attack for failing to enforce building codes—said the club met standards when it was last reviewed.
President Dilma Rousseff has advised mayors across the country to assume greater responsibility for code enforcement and to crack down on avoidable accidents.
Brazil’s Truth Commission said yesterday that it planned to investigate the death of former Brazilian President Juscelino Kubitschek, a centrist politician popularly known as “JK,” who died in a car accident in 1976.
According to a report released late last year by the Minas Gerais chapter of the Ordem de Advogados do Brasil (OAB), a branch of the national bar association, Brazil’s 1964-1985 military regime likely ordered Kubitschek’s death. In 2000, former Rio de Janeiro Governor Leonel Brizola alleged that the car crash that killed Kubitschek was arranged as part of Operation Condor, a secret hemispheric campaign of state terror responsible for the death and disappearance of thousands of people during a wave of Latin American dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s.
Kubitschek governed Brazil from 1956 to 1961, and was well known for his role in overseeing the creation of the city of Brasilia to develop the country’s interior. He opposed the military coup and had ambitions to run for president again. Both Kubitschek and his driver, Geraldo Ribeiro, died on August 22, 1976. The OAB says that Ribeiro was shot in the head by an unknown assailant and the car crashed into a truck on a highway between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, killing both men.
Brazil’s seven-member Truth Commission was approved in 2011 and began work last year to investigate the country’s dictatorship-era human rights abuses. The commission does not have the legal authority to put defendants on trial, due to Brazil’s 1979 amnesty law that shields civilians and military from prosecution for crimes against humanity. However, the commission may reveal the names of those responsible for Kubitschek and Ribeiro’s deaths and provide evidence that could be used in a criminal trial.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Uncertainty surrounding Hugo Chávez’ inauguration in Venezuela; Evo Morales alleges U.S. plot to destabilize his government; Brazil weighs electricity measures; and Canada deepens ties with Africa.
Inauguration Day in Venezuela: After his re-election last October, President Hugo Chávez is scheduled to be inaugurated this Thursday per the constitution that he helped write when he first rose to office in 1999. However, with Chávez recovering in Havana, Cuba, after his surgery last month on an undisclosed form of cancer, many Venezuelans are questioning his fitness for office as well as if or how he will assume another six-year term in three days. The constitution stipulates that the National Assembly President—Diosdado Cabello, who was re-elected to the post over the weekend—act as president if Chávez is declared incapacitated before Thursday and that Vice President Nicolás Maduro would become head of state if Chávez is declared incapacitated after Thursday. However, there are no indications that the executive branch intends to abide by these rules. Maduro claimed that the Supreme Court could swear in Chávez at a later date—a statement that was supported by Attorney General Cilia Flores, who is also Maduro’s wife. Calls from the political opposition for greater transparency have been repeatedly rebuffed. Stay tuned for updates on what will be the top issue in the hemisphere this week.
Morales Accuses U.S. Embassy: Bolivian President Evo Morales claims he has “irrefutable evidence” that the U.S. Embassy in La Paz is plotting to destabilize his government, claims Minister of the Presidency Juan Ramon Quintana. Quintana continued that the Morales administration will present the evidence to U.S. President Barack Obama and “tell him [to] cease all hostilities against the Bolivian government, stop the political ambush of our government.” U.S.-Bolivian relations have been tenuous since Morales assumed office in 2006, hitting a nadir when Morales expelled the U.S. ambassador in 2008.
Brazil’s Energy Budget Crisis: After water levels in hydroelectric dams dropped considerably—in some areas reaching a two-thirds decrease—Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff called an emergency meeting with energy representatives to shore up electricity reserves. Rousseff tasked her Minister of Mines and Energy, Edison Lobão, to head the meeting, which Folha de São Paulo is reporting will occur on Wednesday. At issue: Brazilian cities have experienced blackouts in recent months, and some private-sector analysts are projecting a rationing of electricity in the world’s sixth-largest economy—recalling a similar scenario in 2001. Pay attention to see if Rousseff’s government announces any measures for 2013 as a result of the meeting.
Canada Discusses Africa Policy: Beninese President Thomas Yayi Boni, also the head of the African Union, will visit Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa tomorrow. A central focus of the meeting is anticipated to be the growing instability in Mali; last month the United Nations Security Council agreed to an African-led counter-assault against Islamist rebels. Boni’s visit could include a request for Canadian involvement. According to Defense Minister Peter MacKay, the Canadian government is “contemplating what contribution Canada could make.” International Cooperation Minister added that “Canada remains very concerned about the situation in Mali, [but] we do not anticipate going there.” More concrete details will likely surface after tomorrow’s meeting.
Brazilian Attorney General Roberto Gugel announced Wednesday that his office will investigate a claim that former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva was aware of the massive 2005 vote-buying scheme known as the “mensalão,” in which members of Lula’s Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers' Party—PT) and other politicians bribed Brazilian lawmakers to back PT initiatives in Congress.
Former businessman Marcos Valério, who was sentenced to more than 40 years in prison by the Supreme Court in October for his involvement in the scandal, alleged that the former president had authorized loans for the scheme and used some of the money to pay for his personal expenses. Valerio made the accusations in testimony before prosecutors at the Ministério Público Federal (Federal Public Ministry—MPF) in September after he was convicted, which were published in the Estado de São Paulo last week.
Speaking outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday, Gugel said that he was skeptical of Valério’s version of events, but said they merited investigation nonetheless. “Marcos Valério has frequently made statements that can be considered bombastic, and when we analyze them further, there’s nothing there. But we’ll see what there is in his testimony that could motivate a future investigation,” Gugel said.
Lula, who left office in 2010 with an 87 percent approval rating, has flatly denied the accusations. At a metalworkers’ union gathering in São Paulo on Wednesday, the former president alluded to Valério in his comments, saying that “what most harms my adversaries is my success.” Eight Brazilian state governors and a number of deputies visited Lula to express their support for him on Tuesday.
A Brazilian government spokesperson announced yesterday that President Dilma Rousseff will visit Mexico in early 2013, likely in March, to build on “the very good impression” made by President Enrique Peña Nieto when the then-president elect visited Brasilia in September. The visit will focus on further reversing the tensions sparked over Brazil’s imposition of quotas in early 2012 as well as on sharing the Petrobras model, Brazil’s state oil company, with Mexican counterparts who are looking at how to reform the Mexican state oil company Pemex.
Plans are already underway for a follow-up visit where Pemex executives will travel to Brazil to learn first-hand how Petrobras functions.
Relations soured between Latin America’s two largest economies when Brazil, in response to an escalating trade deficit with Mexico, imposed import quotas on Mexican vehicles. Brazilian government officials have more recently hinted at the possibility of opening up discussions around the current automobile quotas.
Rousseff’s visit to Mexico may be largely symbolic, but the Mexican business community is awaiting concrete actions. Luis de la Calle, the former undersecretary of international business negotiations at the Mexican Ministry of Economy who actively negotiated the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement said that it was “sensible to maintain a certain level of skepticism. At the end of the day, it comes down to interest and what is best for both Brazil and Mexico as a much more open trading relationship.”